Story: Field, Arthur Nelson

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Field, Arthur Nelson

1882–1963

Journalist, writer, political activist, anti‑Semite

This biography was written by Paul Spoonley and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Arthur Nelson Field was born into a prominent family in Nelson on 27 February 1882. His father, Thomas Andrew Hemming Field, had married Jessie Black on 24 May 1881, and Arthur was the eldest of their four children. His grandfather had established the hardware firm Wilkins and Field in 1880, and Arthur's father later became managing director. Thomas Field was also active in politics, serving as a city councillor for six years (two of them as mayor) and as MP for Nelson from 1914 to 1919.

Arthur was educated at Wellington College during a period when his father was managing the Wellington branch of Wilkins and Field. When the family moved back to Nelson, Arthur stayed on and began his career as a journalist. He was a sub-editor on the Evening Post from 1901 to 1905, then worked at the Taranaki Herald, the Poverty Bay Herald and the Argus in Melbourne. In 1907 he returned to Wellington to join the Dominion as a foundation staff member. He remained there until 1928, apart from a brief period in 1909 (when he was editor and proprietor of the Citizen ) and service during the First World War. As a private in the Wellington Infantry Regiment in 1915–16, Field was wounded and discharged before joining the Royal Navy. He served on the staff of the commander in chief at Portsmouth and as a sub-lieutenant on the destroyer Spenser in the North Sea. Completing his service in 1919, he returned to the Dominion.

A well-known journalist, Field wrote a popular column for the Dominion, 'Without prejudice. Notes at random', under the pseudonym TDH (Tom, Dick and Harry). He also wrote a history of Nelson province in 1942. However, equally important was his role as a political activist. From January to November 1909 he published his own journal, the Citizen, to promote motherhood, eugenics and monetary reform, and to attack 'Maori obstructionists'. After the war he began to take an interest in extreme political movements such as The Britons, a patriotic society established in 1919 by Captain Henry Hamilton Beamish; it specialised in publishing the anti-Semitic forgery Protocols of the meetings of the learned elders of Zion. Beamish reciprocated this interest and talked of the influence of Field in his own thinking.

In 1928 Field returned to Nelson, where he devoted himself to writing political tracts. The truth about the slump, which he published in 1931, went through seven editions by 1942, and was reprinted as All these things by a right-wing Californian publisher in 1963. Between 1931 and 1942 Field published at least 10 books or pamphlets, with titles such as The truth about New Zealand (1939) and Why colleges breed communists (1941). The former was described by its author as the 'secret history of New Zealand' and warned that the country faced 'ultimate bankruptcy and slavery'. A strong theme throughout these publications, and the explicit focus of at least four, was Field's belief in a Jewish conspiracy to enslave the capitalist and Christian world. He offered such views to the Government Monetary Committee in 1934, and the same year published The world's conundrum, in which he claimed to expose 'universal Jewish despotism'. Similar themes were explored in To-day's greatest problem (1938). From 1936 to 1939 he edited the Examiner, another right-wing newspaper.

Arthur Field was one of a small band of active anti-Semites who combined a belief in a Jewish conspiracy with a commitment to monetary reform. His views were similar to those of Major C. H. Douglas and particular factions of the social credit movement. Although Field's influence within New Zealand was limited, a number of international activists saw him as an important figure. A. K. Chesterton, a member of the British Union of Fascists, and founder of the League of Empire Loyalists and the National Front, publicly acknowledged his debt to Field, as did Eric Butler, founder of the Australian League of Rights and himself the author of a major anti-Semitic book. Several of Field's books were reissued by American right-wing publishers in the 1960s and 1970s. Within New Zealand, most of the public interest in his publications disappeared with the start of the Second World War, during which his activities were closely monitored by the Security Intelligence Bureau. He continued to write until the late 1950s, however, and in later years was a familiar figure riding about his neighbourhood on an old bicycle.

Arthur Field donated his collection of right-wing and fascist publications to the Alexander Turnbull Library, and the more than 650 items from the 1890s to the 1960s represent one of the most complete collections of such material available anywhere. He never married, and died in a private hospital in Nelson on 3 January 1963.